The latest episode of Ophan X is a trip to the theme park

“Can you save a villain? That’s the question Gregg Hurwitz’s Orphan X poses in “Dark Horse,” the latest in the series, due out Feb. 8. And if the answer is “yes”, then was the man really bad?

These questions also apply to the South Texas drug lord Evan Smoak, aka Orphan X, agrees to help and to Evan himself.

Those who do not know the series will quickly be caught up in this seventh installment. Smoak was an unofficial government assassin who quit the program and is now being pursued by his former coaches and managers. He lives by his own 10 commandments and helps those who have nowhere to go.

Aragon Urrea is the patron (boss) of Eden, Texas, and an elaborate, global, high-tech drug and money laundering operation. His 18-year-old daughter has been kidnapped by a ruthless rival gang, and he’s willing to do anything to get her back. And everything is exactly what Smoak asks of him.

Smoak, incredibly rich, incredibly fit and fast, is part Jason Bourne and part Batman. He has a multitude of identities and refuges as well as almost magical technology at his disposal. His untraceable, tamper-proof phone has a nano-suction mount that makes it stick to any surface he throws it at, so he can watch a hologram of his phone call. Oh, and he MacGyvers a mask from a plastic coke bottle and trash so he can enter a burning building to save burning addicts.

The Orphan X books are pure escapism, akin to a visit to the theme park. It’s no wonder Hurwitz is a bestselling author. The prose is tight and the descriptions are detailed and good enough to create an atmosphere of danger and desperation in southern Texas and Mexico, where the story is set. At over 400 pages, the book is still a quick read as it’s loaded with action and suspense. The short chapters and alternate settings give the story a cinematic feel.

However, the conversation between Smoak and his protege, Joey, has me cringing. They’re so cute it’s annoying. But that’s only a small downside. She is, after all, a 16-year-old computer genius, perhaps the most realistic character in the book.

The other characters are typical of the fantasy thriller genre. The good guys, the bad guys, the innocent. Hurwitz tries to avoid this trope by making Smoak painfully aware that he is both good and evil. Drug lord Urrea is both brutal to those who break his rules (rapists) and generous to his family and the townspeople for whom he bears patrician responsibility.

On the other hand, the villain, Mexican crime boss Raúl Montesco, is needlessly cruel and ruthless. He belittles his own son, keeps women in a cage to be sex-trafficked, and feeds those who offend him (even accidentally) with his “pet” lion. He is the bad guy, absolutely irredeemable.

So maybe you can’t save a “bad guy”, but you might be able to make a man who is both good and bad a little less bad.

The conversation

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Bennett is a retired English and journalism teacher. She sits on the board of directors of the Bastrop public library.

Rebecca Bennett is a columnist for the Bastrop Advertiser.  She writes books and recipes.

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